Presented on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 in the Barn at Quarry Farm.
While much instructive scholarship has been published treating Mark Twain's interest in and use of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur as a predecessor text for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, his interest in and use of works from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as potential predecessor texts for The Prince and the Pauper and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc constitute a dimension of his medievalism that invites further inquiry. We know he read Chaucer carefully since one of his Christmas presents to Livy in 1874, Thomas Tyrwhitt's most recent edition of Chaucer's poetical work, bears the impress of his imagination in thoughtful as well as humorous penciled marginalia in the Squire's Tale, the Wife of Bath's Prologue, and the Friar's Tale. We also know the narrative structuring device of the Canterbury Tale's pilgrimage itself caught his attention given its incorporation in A Connecticut Yankee in chapter 21 when Hank Morgan and Sandy join a "company of pilgrims" who tell tales "that would have embarrassed 'the best English society twelve centuries later.'" However, understanding how the Squire's Tale emphasis upon manipulation of differing world-conceptions may offer a narrative structuring device for Joan of Arc, provides instructive perspective on narrative construction worthy of consideration since it sheds light on the imaginatively effective ways in which Chaucerian predecessor texts appear to help Twain align his later literary works and visions with great works identified as foundational to the establishment of English literary and cultural tradition.
Liam Purdon is Professor of English at Doane University. His field of specialization, medieval British literature, has enabled him over the years to publish and make presentations on a number of well-known works by Chaucer, the Pearl-poet, and other medieval authors. Interest in the Wakefield Master's "play doctoring" course of study encouraged by late-twentieth-century examinations of material culture in plays of the York and Chester Cycles, led in 2003 to publication of new "readings" of the Master's play revisions in light of the late-medieval emphasis upon the morality of technology. Continuing interest in 19th and 20th century American authors in general and Mark Twain in particular has led to interest in examining Twain's creative medievalism, as well as the relationship between contemporary American author Tom Robbins and Twain.